School is amazing. It is challenging and invigorating and overwhelming and exhausting. It is like trying to get a drink from a fire hose. There is so much information to absorb and it seems to be coming from all directions at once. I find that every waking moment not involved in cooking or eating meals or personal hygiene seems to be take up with reading. I have never experienced this volume of work before in my life. There is no time for work work. I am reading and writing between 50 and 60 hours each week. Student loans will keep me afloat this year.
For classes, I am taking: Introduction to Buddhism, Introduction to the New Testament (part 1 of 2), Introduction to Islam, and History of the Church in the Global South. I drive to school three days a week, for classes, most of which are in the evenings. Books were moderately expensive, and there are dozens of them. I have papers to write every week, meditations to practice, and it seems like the more I learn the less I know. It's an amazing process.
Of the eight incoming new students I was a part of at orientation in September, all are women and half identify as queer in some way. I am the only Unitarian Universalist student presently enrolled at the Bangor campus, which makes me something of a curiosity in many of my classes. I had expected to struggle with sexism and/or homophobia from my colleagues and professors, but the thing that seems to set me apart from them more than any other is the fact that I am not Christian.
I tell you, at a Christian seminary, it's a conversation-stopper.
Colleague: You're not Christian?
C: And you're what faith tradition again?
D: Unitarian Universalist.
C: D: And that's not Christian?
No. Not since 1960 when US Unitarians and Universalists merged.
C: So you don't believe in Jesus?
D: Oh, I believe in him. I just don't believe he was god or the son of god. I don't believe in the trinity. Or the virgin birth. Or the resurrection.
C: *head tilt* So, do you believe in God?
D: Well, not like most religions describe god.
C: *head tilts in the other direction*
D: I'm not a strict monotheist. I tend to believe that there is a force (or forces) for good and love in the universe. I don't tend to think that it is out there, removed from us up in heaven or far away, but that it exists in all of us. I think god is too big to fit into any one description or faith. And that it probably wouldn't do us any harm to be nice to each other.
C: So how are these classes going for you?
D: Complete foreign culture immersion.
C: I bet.
And that's the truth of it. Seminary is like complete foreign culture immersion for me. I am learning a new language (that of Bible study, not Greek or Hebrew) a new history, a new way of thinking.
Growing up Catholic, I was given a bible and told to put it on a shelf, that the priests would tell me what I needed to know of its contents on Sunday mornings. So that's what I did. Later, I became a Unitarian Universalist, and we don't refer to the bible often at all.
So now I am in class with people who not only read the bible regularly, but with people who have multiple versions and translations in their homes. And they believe what is contained in the pages.
Multiple versions? Really? Yeah. Really.
I knew there were four gospels, but not much else about the New Testament. I am learning a lot. Mostly what I seem to be learning is how little I actually know. It is a humbling experience.
The cost of this adventure is as daunting as the amount of work it involves. School leaves me no time for work that would bring in money, so this term I am relying on financial aid and student loans. Looking long term, though, I can't afford to do that every year. Graduating with $75,000 in student loan debt is crazy. There is no ministry job on the planet that I could get that would make those student loan payments.
So this week I spoke with a friend of mine that I know from meetings. She's got some family money of the very, very old variety, and I know she does a far bit of philanthropy. She supported a series of 11th step retreats for women that I coordinated a few years ago and really liked them, so I am a known entity to her. I told her that I'd like to ask for her help, and she said to call her on Saturday. So call her I did, and she wasn't home so I left a message. Last night after I got home from doing errands, she returned my call.
We chatted about school, about how seminary is graduate school, so the classes are seminars and the work is intense, and about what classes I have to take and what my faith requires of me in addition, and about the Bible and the gospels and the men who wrote them, and AA and ministry and a little bit about my hopes.
Then she asked how much I needed.
I had no idea what to say. I need a lot in order to not graduate with a ton of debt. I told her that I did not know what or how much to ask for. It was honest.
So she threw out a figure.
I can give you X a year. Will that work?
Her figure had one more zero on it than I had dreamed of asking for.
I gulped and stammered and sputtered and very nearly cried.
She laughed and told me to thank God, not her. She's glad to do it.
I sputtered some more.
I heard her get out a pencil and a piece of paper.
"I'll send it to you," she said. "Now, hon, what's your last name?"
What's your last name?
She knows me from meetings. We don't use last names there.
But she was willing to write me a check with what I consider a lot of zeros on it, without ever knowing my last name.
It's the kind of thing to make me sing praises to Jesus and Yahweh, and the Buddha and Krishna and Gamesh and the Prophet Mohammad and all their saints. No kidding. I am blessed.
Now my job is to do well in school. I don't have to worry like I did about how I will pay the electric bill or buy heating oil this year. I'm OK. I've got some breathing room. And I am going to be OK next year and the year after, too. She's offered to write that same check each year that I am in school.
I am blessed. And humbled. And honored.
And I have reading to do.
I'll post back again when I can. Please be patient.
I am truly, truly blessed.